By Beth Zollars
8 Minute Read Time
COFFEE SOBER – TEN YEARS
As CEO/ Head Buyer for my retail store, I traveled annually to Shanghai, Bejing and Hong Kong. Asia is steeped in a rich, layered history making it the perfect place to acquire antique pieces. My store surrounded by strip malls reflected a sophisticated, curated vibe – a more downtown than suburban mood.
Why are we talking about China in a coffee story?
Because it was on one such trip I ate a bad egg.
A really bad egg.
That damn egg led to salmonella poisoning and long-term abdominal issues lasting years. And by the way, the egg wasn’t eaten at some shady food stall on the street, it was a beautifully prepared eggs benedict at the Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel.
As a result of the bad egg, when I began to feel human again, the smell of coffee was nauseating to me and moreover the thought of tasting it brought me back to the bathroom floor. Worse than fish during my pregnancy – and that was abhorrent.
My reaction, while severe was not out of the norm for such an experience. My body needed a reset and for ten years coffee was not part of my morning
The conditions were extreme considering I used to dream about coffee as I dozed off to sleep.
BETH ZOLLARS = COFFEE ADICT
Fast forward my coffee story, two years ago on a very cool foggy morning in the Adirondack Mountains, the kind of morning where an early fall chill permeates the middle August air. Walking through the run-down almost ghost town like lumber mill town, I stumbled upon an oasis.
Que angels singing
WELL DRESSED FOOD
Well-Dressed Who? What was this place, where was I? Was I dreaming?
Opening the door I almost passed out from delight. A meticulously appointed gourmet grocer; wholly wrapped chunks of cheese from around the world – not single slices in cheap cellophane, Italian Olive Oil – not in a 2 qt metal-handled jug, French sauces, airy light crackers, prepared salmon salad- It was a mini Dean and Deluca smack dab in the middle of the alluring but scarcely epicurean Adirondack town.
Heart be still.
And the smell.
Freshly ground coffee beans. Those beans; nutty, fragrant and soothing.
OH lover how I’ve missed you.
It was time.
And the rest – history.
I am not a scientific coffee connoisseur, not by a long shot. I can’t tell you about acidity, roasting techniques, flavor enhancers, or beans of a particular origin.
What I can tell you is how it tastes and more importantly how it makes me feel. Too bitter- nope, too weak, even
I’m looking for thecombination velvety hug and brawny thump on the head.
The last few years, coffee shops have sprung up like a little oasis in the concrete jungles and suburban strip malls. Coffee is a unifying source amongst the Lululemon wearing yoga moms and the bearded hipster flannel wearing creatives.
I take my coffee seriously.
When I am traveling for business or pleasure, I check out the most noted and the most hidden coffee shops.
The first installment of my best-loved coffee shop tour follows across the country starting on the east coast in NYC, stopping in the middle, my beloved KC and ending on the left coast, in L.A.
Going forward, once a month, I’ll review and update my favorites – focusing on different regions of the country- ultimately culminating with finding the absolute unequaled cup of jo.
My methodology – try to hit as many coffee shops either organically found by me, or recommended by others. I’m only featuring the top dogs. Near perfection in my tasting repertoire.
Whether you’re after summery iced coffee, a frothy latte or a great pour-over, these are the finest cups of coffee in the boss coffee shops of my recent travels.
So sit back, grab a cup of jo and enjoy. And if you want to check out more info on one of the below coffee shops, simply click the highlighted name.
New York City revolves around coffee. Considering there are 3,389 coffee shops in NYC, it is no wonder the city never sleeps. Dating back to the mid-1600s while other colonies preferred drinking tea, New Yorkers were primarily drinking coffee. In the 1800s New York was one of the largest coffee roasting centers in the United States.
More recently, mobile startup MassiveHealth found that New Yorkers drink 6.7 times the amount of coffee consumed by the average denizen of any other US city.
If you’re a New Yorker, you’re probably drinking a cup right now.
Here are my big apple favorites –
A tiny and quiet Little Italy gem where you are immediately transported away from the hustle of NYC.
This minimalistic coffee shop offers global publications and local art for viewing, stark white exposed brick walls and signature tortoise-shell spoons for sale–in addition to a delicious espresso.
New York City is about energy and creativity, and Happy Bones exists to inspire and energize New Yorkers. They start with the
“Our obsession with great coffee comes from growing up in New Zealand, which has had a thriving espresso culture for two decades. We opened our first store in Little Italy as
homageto the legacy and traditions of the country that invented espresso. And we’re based in New York because it’s a city that rewards excellence, which is what we strive for in every coffee we serve.”
Founders: Jason Woodside / Kirsten & Craig Nevill-Manning.
This is possibly the best cup of coffee in New York.
The decor of the La Colombe cafes are clean and minimalistic, so you can focus on their amazing coffee.
This hotspot’s three locations are always, always packed, especially in SoHo, but luckily, the baristas run a tight ship here–so you won’t ever be waiting too long. If you find yourself standing on a long line here for an espresso or pour over, keep in mind that the beans are worth the wait.
The coffee and espresso drinks here are complex and flavorful. Try the draft latte, it’s insanely frothy and utterly delicious. If you’re looking for something sweet to pair it with, the olive oil cake is a must.
WHERE IT STARTED
Todd Carmichael and JP Iberti founded La Colombe on a simple but profound premise: America Deserves Better Coffee. By sourcing and roasting with care, and borrowing on ancient and modern coffee traditions from around the world, the two have built a successful company and an elevated coffee experience for Americans. Through 20 years of hard work and innovation, the two have made sure that experience is shared in cafes and homes across the country.
El Rey Coffee Shop & Luncheonette is a cafe located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. And while it may be about the food as much as the coffee here, I still think their coffee deserves a shout out. They use Counter Culture coffee, so that says a lot right there.
The menu at El Rey features a balance of sweet, spicy and sour, with vegetables taking center stage in a new way. Menu items are complemented by a full variety of beverages, highly-curated selection of draft beers and wines.
Roasted in Long Island City and brewed fresh at six locations daily, Birch’s coffee ranges from bright light roasts to chocolatey dark beans.
Its smooth Filtron-brewed cold brew is especially popular among iced coffee addicts.
Like to read with your joe?
The cafe’s Flatiron location features an extensive lending library, plus individual and large communal wooden tables for getting work done.
“IF YOU LOVE YOUR JOB YOU’LL NEVER WORK A DAY IN YOUR LIFE.” Birch Coffee is just that. What began as an idea and as two individuals’ desire to love what they did for a living has quickly turned into some stomping ground for people and cultivate an environment of ideal-seeking. Giving back to and servicing the community is the foundation of Birch’s philosophy. “We care for people first and coffee is a very close second.”
Every cup of Birch Coffee that you enjoy is the product of small-batch, manual roasting in Long Island City, by their hands.
And if this doesn’t all rock your coffee world, guess what? They offer classes too.
The Birch guys definitely get my top award for most passionate!
Kansas City is in the middle of a food renaissance – And that includes coffee. Numerous coffee shops have sprung up from the suburbs to downtown and the one thing they have in common? Many are very good cups of coffee- and a few- exceptional. Here are my KC Picks:
Second Best Coffee is an espresso-centric slow bar located in the Waldo neighborhood of South Kansas City. They brew everything by the cup using Clever Drippers or as shots through Kansas City’s first Slayer Espresso Machine.
Second Best Coffee, at its core, is a commitment to relentless improvement. Coffee is their passion, and they cannot imagine a day where they do not learn something new.
We tinker and talk, research and read; absorbing anything and everything we can. Whether we’re excited about the intricacies of coffee production in Costa Rica, working on a new roast profile, or tweaking our extraction parameters, we are constantly figuring out ways to translate new knowledge into better daily practices. Second Best is not a self-deprecation, but a way for us to acknowledge and pledge that tomorrow’s coffee will clearly make today’s Second Best.
PT’s was born in 1993 in Topeka, Kansas, out of Jeff Taylor and Fred Polzin’s simple desire for an excellent cup of coffee. Four years and two retail locations later, they began buying green coffee, roasting, and traveling to the origin, forging the direct trade partnerships that have made PT’s a leader in the specialty coffee industry.
A simple question guides our judgments and motivates us every day: Is our coffee the best it can be?
Over the past 25 years, they’ve learned that it’s more important to succeed on their own terms than on anyone else’s. And when they focus on superior quality, from seed to cup, their business thrives.
We remain a group of explorers committed to sourcing, roasting, and drinking the best coffees in the world. We warmly invite you to join us on this journey:
Coffee done right.
Thou Mayest is a coffee roasting gang of freewheeling renegades looking to shake up the ant farm. Like all awesome things, it started in a garage in 2012 and has exploded into a movement of entrepreneurs, artists, activists, business owners and shopkeeps looking for ways to do community better. Thou Mayest means “the way is open” and is seeing your life as a vast, glowing, empty page, waiting to be written by you.
“Pickled in philosophy and propelled through action and engagement, we are here to get you buzzed, both AM and PM.
The first and most important thing we can do is get a most excellent drink into your hands. That means you can come to our shop, which we have made into a stimulating space where you can relax or creatively engage. We follow the motto “take fun seriously” and there is no better place to do that, whether alone, or in the company of others, than our shop.”
Messenger Coffee is much more than coffee.
Let’s start with a flour mill, bakery, coffee bean roaster, meeting space, catering company, … you get the picture.
“We create excellent, artisan-level roasts from the best coffees available while taking care of our coffee farmers in a way that goes above and beyond the status quo. We are head over heels for discovering new coffees, artfully coaxing out the best characteristics of the bean for you to enjoy. Messenger Coffee is beyond fair trade sourced and manually roasted in Kansas City.”
The mill inside Messenger Coffee’s new space, at 1624 Grand, comes from Vermont, two large stone discs, imposingly perch atop a frame of metal and wood. Whole grain travels the stainless-steel hopper into a hole in the top stone, then flows into a webbing etched into the stones.
The stones crush the grain and push out flour — an ancient process humming through modern, made-to-order tech and put on proud display.
The historically protected building, housing the sister outpost of Lenexa’s Ibis Bakery alongside Messenger, is home to Kansas City’s first independent flour mill in recent memory.
Messenger’s showpiece object is a manual San Franciscan drum roaster, a beautiful hulk with a matte-black body and shiny gold accents that suggest a 19th-century steam engine.
Like the flour milling, the coffee roasting on Grand is meant to be a public theater, visible from the handful of tables located upstairs.
“Our goal is to have people engage and interact with what’s being done here,” Chris Matsch says. “The idea that you can watch flour being made or coffee being roasted — neither of those are unique in and of themselves, but to be able experience it and have it be open like we’ve created it, we’re really excited about it.”
Chris, one of several Matsch family owners has truly brought a coffee culture gift to Kansas City.
L.A. has had a complete transformation of its coffee scene, from a city laden with syrups and badly foamed milk to one where you can essentially expect a great latte, cappuccino, or brewed coffee in every corner of town.
801 new coffee shops opened in LA alone in 2018 – And there are thousands of others worthy of mention. However, in the essence of time and space, here are a few of my favorite standouts
The expanded Venice shop is everything one needs in a great coffee shop: dialed in espresso, talented baristas, and quality tunes from a vinyl system.
At Menotti’s Coffee, you can enjoy a prime view of the Venice Beach boardwalk while you sip your morning coffee. Thier coffee shop is a popular gathering spot with a relaxed, beach-front atmosphere. With both vegan and organic coffee options on our menu, our cafe attracts a range of both regulars and day-trippers.
A seasoned veteran named Christopher “nicely” Abel Alameda, who clocked time behind some of Seattle and LA’s best coffee bars, runs this quick-grab spot within shouting distance of Venice Beach’s drum circles. Four Barrel Coffee gets the star treatment, and their latte art is probably the city’s best — after all, nicely is a three-time winner of the Latte Art World Championship. And —
Is a neighborhood specialty coffee bar located in the heart of LA’s Echo
Woodcat proudly partners with Flat Track Coffee out of Austin, TX for their coffee service.
IS A WOODCAT A CAT OR WHAT?
A woodcat is an old Scottish nickname for a hare. J & S were inspired by the song Woodcatrom from the UK band Tunng. The song has a very personal meaning to them, as does everything in the shop.
The Silver Lake coffeebar seeks to bridge the gap between the outdoors and in store with plenty of outdoor seating. The coffeebar reflects the spirit of its neighborhood with its casual, minimalistic design aesthetic. Standing at center stage sits a marvelous blue-tiled bar, featuring Intelligentsia’s internationally known baristas and of course, spectacular espressos and coffees.
Towingthe line with our pioneered spirit and uncompromising standards, Intelligentsia has been a part of Los Angeles’ specialty coffee scene since the get-go.”
Culver City’s modernist coffee bar is the perfect place for a late morning or early afternoon pick me up, with espresso and single brews prepared by affable baristas. With a massive selection of beans from roasters around the country, it’s a coffee geek’s paradise. (Also locations in Fashion District and South Park.)
BROT COFFEE/ Orange CA
Not quite in LA, but in the quaint town of Orange – Home of Chapman University and my son. And worthy of a spot in this review.
Brot’s vision is to be the brand that puts their community first; through coffee and their partners, they establish long-lasting relationships.
Our values are centered upon Community, Craftsmanship, and Consistency.
It’s not just about the coffee here. While it is an amazing cup of jo, the toast almost takes center stage. And you can have it anyway you like – hundreds of combinations.
Coffee and toast. No joke – say goodbye to tea and toast forever.
And that wraps up our first installment of Coast to Coast Cup of Jo.
I’ll leave you with this image, remember at the beginning of the story, I hadn’t had coffee in ten years?
Well, here’s my reaction to my first sip of coffee.
Check back monthly for our feature “Coast to Coast Cup of JO”.
What are some of your favorite coffee hangouts? What do you love about your coffee?
Let us know in the comments below and thanks for stopping by!